Pick Your Bush Snacks Carefully
At the crack of dawn we awoke to the sound of a beating drum. It was barely loud enough to wake us, but I wasn't sleeping soundly because I was anticipating our morning bushwalk. Throughout my visit to Botswana I marveled at the way people thrived off what might otherwise seem like barren land. But I was soon to learn there's great diversity of life in the bush and that nearly everything - plants, animals and insects has a potential use.
Purple Verninia or "Swe"
Almost as soon as we left the camp on our bushwalk, our guides were pointing out plants and their uses. They raved about the medicinal properties of the purple verninia plant, which they call "Swe". After boiling the roots, a person suffering from skin cancers or other skin lesions can be washed with diluted root water. Creating a powder from the dried plant formed a bitter and even poisonous medicine (when ingested) used to treat topical wounds.
At zoos in the U.S. there are displays explaining the marvelous uses of elephant dung in our modern world. But the market for manure as a fertilizer isn't the top use of dung in the natural world. Soon after an elephant relieves himself or herself, its dung is put to work and becomes part of the natural cycle of life in the bush.
When the dung is a still fresh, baboons, birds and dung beetles come along to eat seeds and undigested fruit that's passed through the elephant's digestive system. Elephants eat so much food in a day but their digestive systems do not process much of what's consumed.
Interestingly, elephant dung is useful to people as well. Smeared on ones body it makes an excellent mosquito repellant, important in this area as mosquitoes carry malaria. The steam from boiled dung is also used to treat headaches.
Rat's Tail Bush
The grasses of the bush didn't seem to vary at first but as we walked there were so many types and heights. We learned that fountain grass is used to thatch roofs on home and that boiling the roots of this plant could be used to alleviate ear pain.
The rat's tail bush is burned to an ash then suspended in oil and spread over baby's skin to ease colic and calm crying at night.
You Can't Eat Everything
At one point we were so overwhelmed by the amount of information the bushwalk offered and the variety of seeds and flowers we were carrying that we got confused - can you eat almost anything? "No!" cried one the female guides on our walk as my colleague Jen was contemplating whether or not to eat a seedpod. "That one will make you deaf, " she said. So while everything in the bush may have a purpose, it's best to let an expert be your guide.
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